Drink Challenge #2: Game, set, matcha

My chief tormenter friend Emmy has stepped up to the plate yet again, with a nutritious matcha tea smoothie that will no doubt do wonderful things for my digestive system while simultaneously making me want to gag my digestive organs out.

Matcha, if you’re bewildered, is merely powdered green tea. When prepared in the traditional way, it looks exactly as if someone has eaten the contents of a lawn mower catcher, chugged a handle of vodka and regurgitated the contents into a cute earthenware bowl. It resembles the insides of a caterpillar and is half as tasty.


Be still my beating taste buds.

Now what Emmy doesn’t know is that in my late teens, I spent a year in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, and therefore consider myself an absolute matcha master. I went into this challenge feeling confident.

Konnichiwa, bitches.

Unfortunately, confidence was not high on my list of attributes at 17.

That is, until I tried to source ethical ingredients that complied with our (arbitrary, undefined and frequently changing) Drink Challenge rules. When Emmy first crowed “Haaa, this bitch is never going to find matcha in that culturally stunted backwater of a nation!*”, I smiled to myself because we have a chain of tea stores called T2, which stocks more tea and tea paraphernalia than you can poke a Scotch Finger at. T2 started as a single store in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, and its unrivalled inventory of flavoured teas and gaudy tea-themed curios guaranteed a proliferation of T2s across the country, including our easternmost island, New Zealand. T2 is a big deal in Australia at the moment, and you’ll find one in virtually every shopping centre…so I wasn’t entirely flabbergasted to discover the Aussie start-up had been bought out last year by Unilever. Yep, the same delightful folks who are chewing through thousands of hectares of Malaysian and Indonesian rainforest in the name of palm oil (fun fact: they also used to be the largest purchaser of whale oil) now own most of our favourite tea brands (they also own Lipton and Bushells).

With T2 now firmly indexed in my novelesque boycott  list, I turned to the local tea shops, and  stumbled across Tea Leaves in Sassafras. Through them, I found out we have tea plantations right here in Victoria. The Japanese beverage company Ito-En has a processing factory up in Wangaratta, and exports Aussie tea leaves to Japan. About 10 years ago when they were running out of prime tea-growing real estate in Nippon, they cast their eyes to our temperate pastures and found a handful of sheep farmers who were happy to turn their hands at a livelihood that didn’t require fencing, dipping, and crutching.

All of this means I was able to find me some fresh, locally grown green tea in a little store just up the road. Now who’re you calling backwater, Emmy? Hmm?**

All Australian ingredients, astonishingly.

All Australian ingredients, astonishingly.

The catch was they only had matcha mixed with sencha – so what you’re looking at is a bag of half powder, half dried leaves.

I steeped the tea in boiled water for a couple of minutes, threw everything into a bottle, shook it like a polaroid picture, et voilà:

Needs more vodka.

Mmm, insipid.

It was disappointingly un-green, despite the random tea leaves floating in it. But it tasted surprisingly pleasant, even with the oleaginous mass of chia seeds settled in the bottom of the glass. Fun fact: Australia is the biggest producer of chia seeds. Let me know if you ever need chia, and I will hook you up.

Verdict: Matcha is not as disgusting as I remember from 1999. Also I’m glad I learnt early in life that a yukata does nothing for my figure.

*Possibly paraphrased slightly.
**Ok fine, she never said this at all.


Things I learnt during my tea-quest

Anyone who’s followed Emmy’s blog for any period of time would know she’s a big ol’ groupie for intercropping. For the non-agricultural amongst us, it simply means planting a mixture of crops together, rather than sowing great, sweeping windrows of corn or wheat. Sure, a nicely manicured plantation is gorgeous to behold (ever seen a canola field in full bloom?), but it bears absolutely no resemblance to a natural eco-system and subsequently refuses to act like one, thereby creating problems like soil erosion, nutrient depletion and pest proliferation. Of course the accepted ‘solutions’ to these issues result in a whole new batch of environmental complications, and so the cycle continues.

Intercropping doesn’t appear to have taken off in the commercial farming sector just yet, at least not in Australia. Tea especially is a bit of a sticky wicket in this department, because tea consumers would probably not be thrilled to detect overtones of date palm leaf in their English Breakfast. It’s easier to avoid contamination when you can hire workers for $2 a day to hand-pick tea tips, but here in Australia, worker exploitation is generally frowned upon, so our tea picking is done mechanically. Mechanical harvesters are yet unable to tell the difference between a tender new tea shoot and a koala-piss soaked eucalypt leaf. Not unlike our current Prime Minister.

On the other hand, intercropping is a fabulous way for newbie tea farmers to make some cash during the two or three years it takes for tea bushes to produce anything resembling yield – when the fledgling plantations are nothing more than a capital-sapping ornamental garden. One field experiment found that a multitude of vegies can be grown in between bushes without compromising the happiness of the baby tea plants – in fact, it actually boosted yield down the track.

Of course, I’m more than happy to take my new-found knowledge on the road to educate the new generation of strapping, sun-bronzed farm lads…


15 thoughts on “Drink Challenge #2: Game, set, matcha

  1. All completely fascinating to me! You did a bang-up job meeting this challenge! I’m inspired to make a cup of green tea right this moment.
    I, also, have a bag of chia seeds. I am going to make strawberry jam with them…they will be the thickener and honey the sweetener. Beats the crap out of making jam with four cups of white sugar!

    And Unilever. Lovely. I fear for this planet.

    • I’m drinking a cup right now! I thought I didn’t like green tea, but apparently I was wrong. You’re gonna have to get in the WordPress spirit of things and post an instructable for this jam of yours now 🙂

  2. I thought matcha had to be whisked whilst pouring just-under-boiling water over the tea but I’m drunk.


    Anyway, this is what happens when you’re old and live an hour from a population 3k town that you consider a ‘proper city, with a movie theatre and all!’

    Back to my almost-on thoughts:

    Intercropping not so muchly but we do have a small start of non-till farming, which sounds like the same thing under different appellage. That’s apparently not a word but as a cosmopolitan gal and offspring of GOF, I reckon you can understand my ramblings. Mayhaps better than the old feller, at that.

    Anyhoozles, I’ve tried my hand at it on El Rancho Reedo but apparently it takes over 3 years cultivation to allow the soil to ‘reset.’ I get tired after the 2nd bottle (750ml).

    My wonderful experiment of early crops (shite) with mid-crops (dandy but the coons got produce) and late harvest (didn’t come up) this year was an again ‘bust.’

    We till.

    It works but I can at least say it’s organic? I love the idea of the multi-planting discipline but apparently can’t give the patience needed.

    What would help is GOVERNMENT support. That sounds like ‘give me a handout’ but in the US the gov gives HANDOUTS to commercial (factory) farming. I’ll save you the drunken rant but it’s still true.

    I feel like 40 years of gov political rambling (US) but know nobody, particularly Americans, want to look at the truth from somebody who knows for fact, firsthand, so I’ll say:

    Blame it on me. I keep half-trying, damn it.

    I do think it’s logical. Just know it’s difficult and when it comes to the bottom line (money, which doesn’t affect me on a retired ranch), that ain’t ever gonna happen without support.

    Sorry for the less-than-caterpiller standards, too. That wasn’t on me, at least.

    • Yep, you’re probably entirely correct on the matcha preparation front. Whisking is definitely involved! My kitchen techniques are always pretty half-arsed though.

      Man, hit the nail on the head with the government support. I think the problem is so many members of the public are oblivious to where food comes from, and don’t give it a second thought when they purchase their packet of perfectly formed salad leaves in sterile plastic packaging. The result is we spend all our time agitating for better healthcare, education, and sending asylum seekers to their death, all the while forgetting it means nothing if we can’t bloody *eat*.

      And look at that, I just learnt what non-till farming is! Interesting that you’ve tried different planting techniques. And you’re right, if it doesn’t make money the first go then why the hell would anyone continue?

  3. That’s General Tormenter to you! Soldier!

    I’m going to be serious for half a second and say really, nicely done. Beautifully written and researched. You even had a Bazinga for me not knowing you’d travelled to Korea.

    I feel like you’ve mentioned it before but I’d enjoy hearing more about that trip (love the robes)! I don’t know a think about Korea’s habitats but Southeast Asia has rainforest treasures I can only dream about……I really want to travel there someday and see all this.

    Hey, we Americans have to tell ourselves we’re not uninformed it’s just “developed Western nations” that are uninformed. So join the club and stop reminding us not to stereotype. ‘Kay? Kay. 😀

    (ps, you want to see backwater come to Manchester, New Hampshire and I’ll show you around. Its nickname? ManchVegas).

    Yep, the same delightful folks who are chewing through thousands of hectares of Malaysian and Indonesian rainforest in the name of palm oil (fun fact: they also used to be the largest purchaser of whale oil) now own most of our favourite tea brands (they also own Lipton and Bushells)

    Well the good news is Unilever now sponsors Guardian UK Sustainable Business Better Living Series (vomits) and pressures Girl Scouts to just keep quiet about palm oil in their cookies. Lipton is having fun spending $$ planting monoculture trees where they deforested for tea plantations to distract from that time they (oops) were caught exceeding the amount of EU accepted pesticides in their products.

    That color. Caterpillar gut soup, mmmmm. That’s okay if yours wasn’t super green, we don’t have Tasteovision so it just gives a sense of how brown and cruddy these recipes really look. I really imagined the chia seeds would taste like panda bear ass, so I’m surprised it was tolerable. I think it’s all those ads for chia pets who would want to eat the seeds after seeing that?

    Was it sweet? How much honey did you put in it? I confess since I wrote the post I’m hoping to actually try it.

    I’m thrilled to see someone else write about intercropping. My wild-eyed enthusiasm is nice but it doesn’t go very far unless it starts some kind of meme amongst others. If we want our sun-drenched lads, we’ll have to encourage this ancient practice to be more profitable. Somehow.

    • *salute*

      Hee, it was Japan, not Korea. Though I’d happily go there too, for “research” (I hear the food is amazing!).

      Ok, you just made me Google that Lipton tree-planting project…turns out it’s not costing them that much $$ at all, as they seem to be selling it as a “community project”, using volunteers and seconded employees. But they’re giving books about trees to local school kids so GOOD FOR THEM. :-/

      Haha, panda bear ass. I actually don’t mind chia seeds, I like putting them in slices and muffins…just not in drinks, because gloop. I put about a teaspoon of honey in perhaps a cup and a half of liquid. It really wasn’t bad at all, and I even added some green tea to my protein shake yesterday.

      Hey, all change begins with one wild-eyed enthusiast! Oh if only you knew someone that enjoys film-making to spread the message…. 😉

      • Oh cripes, sorry my brain was obviously in Disneyland when I read that part. Regardless I’d still love to hear more about it.

        Green tea is supposed to have massively good benefits and I just read adding lemon increases the effect, not sure why. Now I’d love to try some matcha, I’m betting our Trader Joe’s has some. Do you have one of those locally?

        Hey, all change begins with one wild-eyed enthusiast

        Ah, fair enough. The enthusiast should also be charming, not something I as a cranky introvert always have. At least I’ve somehow gotten one partner in crime. 😉

  4. What a font of knowledge you are. I didn’t know Unilevel had bought out T2. Between your current knowledge, and the slightly suspect GOF’s History classes, I feel well prepared to face the modern world.

    Awesome post.

    • Thanks Peter. I had a hunch it might be owned by a conglomerate now, given how many stores keep cropping up – a quick Google confirmed it. Sad.

      Wait, shorely you’re not casting nasturtiums on GOF’s history syllabus? He teached me everything I no.

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